With thousands of nonprofit and for-profit corporations and five institutions of higher education in Northeast Florida, there are myriad opportunities available to serve on boards of directors or boards of trustees.
How boards function, what value they provide for their organizations and how to be elected or invited to join a board were the topics of a panel discussion last week presented by the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association.
The panel, moderated by Rena Coughlin, CEO of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida, comprised three women with extensive board service in the nonprofit, for-profit and government sectors.
Karen Bowling, director of the University of North Florida Center for Entrepreneurship, is chair of Florida State College at Jacksonville’s district board of trustees. She has served on the board of directors of JEA, Associated Industries of Florida, Jacksonville Humane Society and First Coast Crime Stoppers.
Business immigration attorney Giselle Carson is a shareholder at Marks Gray. She’s a past chair of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority board of directors and serves on the board of the JaxSports Council and the Generation W advisory council.
Ramona Chaplin is managing member of Law Offices of Ramona S. Chaplin and immediate past president of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid’s board of directors.
Coughlin said boards serve a function similar to that of a legislative body in that they provide a “check” on the executive power. Boards also often control the finances of a corporation of nonprofit and ensure a company or nonprofit remains true to its mission.
“Without strong leadership, an organization is much less likely to succeed,” she said.
In the case of nonprofit boards, Coughlin said there usually is “a good split of men and women,” but the panel said that men often outnumber women on corporate and government boards.
Bowling said her board experience has involved sometimes being in the gender minority.
“I’m never offended to be ‘the woman.’ That’s what we have to do to create opportunities for women,” she said.
“Boards should be diverse and represent the community the organization serves,” said Carson.
Asked how to become a board member, Bowling advised choosing a cause or business of interest and attending functions hosted by the organization.
“Meet the people and build relationships with the staff and board members. And tell people you’d like to be on the board,” she said.
“Think about it like you’re applying for a job. Be proactive,” Chaplin said.
She also commented on the aspect of being an attorney who serves on a board who is asked for a legal opinion related to an issue faced by the board.
Sometimes, there’s pressure to advise, but ethics and conflict-of-interest rules apply, she said.
Carson said boards should consult the organization’s attorneys or retain outside counsel for advice and “I’m not there as their attorney, I’m not there to serve their legal needs.”
Before the panel discussion, JWLA President Jamie Karpman announced that the association’s annual project to provide an opportunity for a law student to work as an intern at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid has a new title: “The JWLA Kathy Para Student Internship at JALA,”
It will recognize Para, who retired this month as director of pro bono at the civil legal aid law firm.
“It’s the perfect way to commemorate her retirement by honoring her commitment to justice and mentoring,” Karpman said.